The BBC recently reported on how the internet and high speed broadband have transformed a wide range of consumer led businesses in the last two decades. Think banking, travel agencies, film distribution, book-selling and food retailing. But could healthcare be on the verge of a similar revolution over the next 20 years or so?
The internet has empowered patients and allowed them to carry out exhaustive research about their symptoms and conditions. Traditional assumptions about the doctor knowing best are outdated.
The most radical thinkers in this field argue there could come a time when people will never need to go to a doctor for diagnosis.
If a single drop of blood contains 300,000 biomarkers which can be analysed by a computer, they argue, a patient’s chances of developing medical conditions can be assessed before they happen.
Throw in personalised genetic sequencing and an individual’s health prospects can be mapped as never before.
Technology, so the argument goes, will deliver both predictive power and detailed monitoring of an individual’s state of health.
Smartphone apps covering fitness are commonplace and new innovation with diagnostics is seen to have immense potential.
Those familiar with this field, including David Wood whose career included stints at Psion and Symbian, believe that mobile telephony will help patients manage their own health.
Smartphone apps under development or already available outside the UK include a low-cost blood testing system, a microscope attachment for mobile phones, a breath test facility which can help detect diseases and an add-on facility to monitor heart rhythm disturbances.
These allow patients to gather their own data and images remotely which can then be assessed by a doctor. A straightforward condition might be diagnosed and dealt with using an e-prescription without the patient ever needing to go to a surgery.
Neil McManus, MD at GHM Communications (an Oxfordshire telephone systems provider) says: “There is already a huge conceptual shift of carers, doctors and nurses using our Smartphone and business telephone system technology to integrate multiple third party applications such as nurse call, patient records, care plans and medication apps. I totally believe that this shift will continue over to the patient themselves and we will soon be starting to integrate the information and data that a patient has collected with that of the carer.
“It could mean more independence for residents, closer monitoring of conditions and also alleviate some of the increasing pressure being put on GPs and carers.”